"Where did you go to university" used to be one of the first questions a prospective employer would ask an aspiring job candidate. From first-hand experience as an employer in crypto I can tell you this is not something I, or most companies in the space, care about.
This piece is part of CoinDesk's Education Week
The same is true for venture capitalists who say they no longer care about the educational pedigree of founders, nor where they are based. The world has changed a lot since it was considered a requirement to move to Silicon Valley with an Ivy league degree to build a scalable tech company.
Why would crypto employers not care about something that has been so fundamental to career progression throughout the past century? As someone who has a long history in higher academics, I am comfortable stating that, generally speaking, our global education system from grade school through Ph.D. programs has become so woefully outdated that where you went to school, or didn’t, is a terrible predictor of future success in the industries of today and tomorrow.
We started witnessing the decoupling of formal education credentials from entrepreneurial success during the dot-com era. Steve Jobs of Apple, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Spotify founder Daniel Ek and Twitter's Jack Dorsey are just a few famous college dropouts who went on to found some of the most influential companies of their generation.
It seems, however, that the pace of innovation in emerging industries like crypto is just warp-speed faster than our educational systems can keep up with. In January 2017, the total market cap of crypto was less than $20 billion and, despite going through our second bear market, it is still worth more than $1 trillion today. Very few of the top 10 tokens from 2017 would make the top 100 today.
In those five years or so we have seen the rise and drastic fall of initial coin offerings, the emergence and explosion of decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFT), a surge in the use of crypto for the metaverse, gaming and play-to-earn, the introduction of several alternative layer 1 base blockchains and layer 2 companion systems and much more.
On top of that, the very same tools the dot-com boom brought to us, such as YouTube, podcast streaming, massive online open courses (MOOC), plain old google searches and more, have enabled people, no matter where they are in the world, to keep up in real time with the breathtaking pace of innovation.
Crypto, in particular, has embraced Twitter, media like CoinDesk and podcasts as their de facto source of knowledge, not Harvard, Stanford, London Business School and the like. It just takes academic institutions too long to develop new curriculum to keep up. It takes an hour to start a podcast and a few years to develop and launch a new educational program at a university.
Read More: Autodidacts Welcome!
As content has become democratized, another phenomenon has emerged as well. Adolescents learning on their own are practically bypassing (or at least outpacing) their teachers in elementary and high school. Take Benyamin Ahmed, for example. A self-professed “13-year-old school boy from London” learned programming at home on Twitter and Discord. He got into crypto and in particular NFTs. Before even becoming a teenager one of his first NFT projects generated more than 1 million British pounds in revenue. In a twist of fate, he became the youngest guest speaker at the renowned Oxford University.
There is a way for education to not get left behind. Universities and schools need to help students get out of books and learn by doing, learn programming early and, perhaps most importantly, facilitate interdisciplinary learning from day one.
Crypto, by default, is a complex blend of economics, behavioral psychology, finance, computer science. Even history and philosophy have relevance to crypto projects and the industry overall. Educators need to bring the real world into the classroom and bring the classroom to the real world. Embrace agile learning, design thinking and multidisciplinarity. Also, universities need to go further to create more dynamic programming that evolves more rapidly, that involves industry professionals (not just Ph.D.s) and maybe invite youths like Benyamin to help universities understand how to reach that generation where they are.
Lesser-known universities such as the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), operating in the giant shadows of globally renowned universities such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), often seem to show much more agility. Led for years by their tireless blockchain professor David Lee, SUSS has had a focus on applied blockchain technology through its Node for Inclusive Fintech launching everything from a metaverse lab to the recent hosting of the GWEI Summit that brought academics, students and the crypto industry together to explore how blockchain can impact the real world. Perhaps upstart universities like SUSS can leverage their agility to compete with the entrenched institutions who have often become too “ivory tower.”
Kind of reminds me of several Web3 startups that are disrupting the old guard in every industry from logistics to energy and social media.